Crazy Weather We’re Having, Isn’t It?
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a Zelda-style action-adventure game that tells the story of Aryelle, a peppy young girl from the snowy mountaintop village of Yule. After her older brother goes missing on an adventure, Ary’s father finds himself crippled by grief and unable to tend to his duties as the kingdom of Valdi’s Guardian of Winter. However, after strange crystals begin to rain from the sky one day and cause the four seasons to go askew, Ary sets off on a journey to find her brother and uncover the source of the mystery behind the changing seasons.
Featuring a whimsical world with a quirky cast of characters seemingly ripped from a Pixar production and a unique gameplay hook that lets you manipulate the weather in creative ways, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a charming addition to the PlayStation library. Unfortunately, like a freak blizzard ruining your summer barbecue, a litany of glitches and performance issues always seem to pop up to spoil the fun.
If you’ve ever played a Legend of Zelda game before, you’ll feel right at home with Ary and the Secret of Seasons. The game shares the same DNA as Nintendo’s celebrated adventure game franchise. There’s a massive overworld to explore that’s filled with secrets. Temples dot the map, and they’re teeming with clever puzzles to solve. Hell, even the evil hyenas that serve as Ary’s frequent adversaries look and behave nearly identically to Zelda‘s goblin-esque Bokoblins.
The similarities don’t end there. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Ary visited Orca himself to pick up some Hylian sword techniques. The mechanics feel almost identical to those in recent 3D Zelda entries, right down to the lock-on system and the way distinctive musical notes accompany each bash with your sword.
However, a dodge roll and a simple parrying mechanic do manage to shake things up a bit. Though I admittedly didn’t find the need to use them too much. Enemies are mostly pretty easy to dispatch by just mashing away at the slash button. Boss battles do up the ante a bit. But, once again, similarly to The Legend of Zelda series, they’re more about puzzle-solving than twitchy combat.
As for me, I’m OK with that. After all, like the recently released New Super Lucky’s Tale (which I also reviewed), Ary and the Secret of Seasons is geared clearly towards kids and adults alike. Though I have to admit, I do wish the battles were a little more challenging than what the game offers.
That’s not to say Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a game devoid of innovation. In fact, its most notable feature is quite refreshing and makes exploration and experimentation a whole lot of fun.
Early on, Ary gains the ability to cast spheres that change the seasons of everything they encompass. At first, this allows her to use her winter sphere to do things like freeze lakes and waterfalls or conjure bridges of ice and frozen platforms to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
As you progress through the game’s roughly 10-hour story, you’ll gather spheres for every season. And you can use each one to interact with the world in new ways. For example, the summer sphere can melt snow to reveal hidden paths or reduce an enemy’s icy shield to a sad puddle. The autumn sphere, on the other hand, creates instant rain showers, which can pool to generate bodies of water that you can use to swim across gaps. Lastly, the spring sphere causes climbable vegetation to sprout up from the ground and even grants Ary the ability to walk underwater.
All of the game’s puzzles are built around the changing of the seasons. Early on, they don’t require much thought. But this changes in the second half as you seek out four ancient golems to obtain their crystals. The temples you explore are massive and filled with really well-designed puzzles that force you to use all of your seasonal powers at once. Moments like these are really cool and are easily the highlight of Ary and the Secret of Seasons‘ adventure.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Crashes
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking Ary and the Secret of Seasons sounds like a pretty good time. After all, a Zelda-lite with a unique meteorological twist is a novel idea. Well, the game can be a good time. The problem is it’s quite possibly the most bug-infested, poorly optimized title I’ve played in recent memory.
The game’s problems are numerous, ranging from shoddy performance to potentially game-breaking bugs. For starters, the frame rate dips wildly, both in-game and during story scenes. Not only is this jarring, but it also makes the game’s platforming feel jerky and imprecise. Nothing is more frustrating than missing a jump from a high-up platform or getting battered by a swinging pendulum and having to work your way back to where you fell from because the stuttering frame rate made timing your movements all but impossible. Consequently, this issue extends to the combat as well, making it feel stiff and twitchy, which is a real shame.
Performance woes aside, the game is also a technical mess. During my time with the game, I encountered NPCs whose dialogue text was utterly blank and enemies that wouldn’t die or, stranger still, would get stuck floating in the air. The most frustrating problems I experienced, though, were prompts that wouldn’t appear, leaving me unable to open gates or interact with the environment. I had this happen numerous times throughout my playthrough, and each time I had to reload my previous save to resolve the issue.
These glitches and performance problems permeate the entire experience. I wish that weren’t the case. Because when everything is working as it should, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an entertaining adventure that’s just oozing with charm. Thankfully, the developer is aware of these issues and promises to iron out the kinks currently kneecapping the game with future patches. It’s just unfortunate to see the game release in such a clearly incomplete state.
Severe Weather Warning
In spite of its problems, there’s a good game buried beneath Ary and the Secret of Seasons‘ many technical bumps and bruises. Wielding the weather to solve its many clever brain-teasers can be as exhilarating as a thunderstorm in July. But these flashes of excitement are almost always bookended by moments of frustration thanks to the game’s shoddy optimization.
With a little spit and polish or perhaps a bigger budget, Ary and the Secret of Seasons could have been a real standout that no Zelda fan should miss. However, at least in its current state, it’s hard to recommend as the game is anything but sunshine and rainbows at the moment. If Ary and the Secret of Seasons sounds like something you’d enjoy, that’s great. But I’d strongly recommend waiting for the game’s developers to iron out the kinks before plunking down your cash.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC; Publisher: Modus Games; Developer: eXiin, Fishing Cactus; Players: 1; Released: September 1, 2020; ESRB: ESRB: “E” For Everyone; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy.